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“While the rest of the world fights the pandemic with endless confinement, for displaced people the sole idea of coming back home seems a hopeless delight”

It was early this year when we first heard the words lockdown, social distancing, or self-isolation. We have found ourselves confined inside our homes for days, washing our hands twice as often and keeping two meters distance between one another in supermarkets and streets.

These basic public health measures have been universally implemented. However, what we have taken for granted as being an easy way of avoiding the virus spread, it is (and continues to be), simply impossible for millions of refugees and displaced populations living in camps and informal settlements around the world.

On the Greek Island of Lesvos, 20,000 people have been squeezed into a camp originally intended for 3,000. In Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp, washing hands often translates into long queues for sewage water. In Syria, Idlib’s health facilities have been systematically targeted and the shortages of medical staff and medicines have left its population with almost no access to healthcare. And in the Saharawi camps (Algeria), where existing health conditions, such as the highest prevalence of coeliac disease in the world, high rates of diabetes and  acute malnutrition widespread, the risk of COVID-19 could be potentially catastrophic.

In response to this double-faced crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has made a call on health authorities to consider the inclusion of special measures for refugees and migrants in their recent Lancet publication[1]. An example of a positive adaptational response is the Guidance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [2]. Their outbreak preparedness operations include ensuring access to healthcare and information (e.g. home delivery immunization, service delivery points for medical/nutritional treatment or telephone consultations), redistribution of health workforce capacity andthe development of a mechanism to identify non-urgent care priorities.

More than ever, there is a necessity for an inclusive public health approach that revaluates the importance of securing the health and safety of refugees and migrants. But equally important is the opportunity it constitutes for the rest of the world,to remind that the pandemic is not the only global crisis we are facing.


[1]       Kluge HHP, Jakab Z, Bartovic J, D’Anna V, Severoni S. Refugee and migrant health in the COVID-19 response. Lancet 2020;395:1237–9.

[2]       UNHCR. Supporting the continuity of health and nutrition services in the context of COVID-19 in refugee settings – Interim Guidance V2. 2020.

Sara Herrán

My name is Sara Herrán, I graduated from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid as a nutritionist and I am currently studying my MSc in Nutrition for Global Health in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. During this process of learning, my interests in nutrition have been rapidly growing and getting more focused on the cultural aspects of food, the maternal and child well-being and the biggest issues surrounding malnutrition in all its forms, especially in the world’s protracted crises.

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